On our second day of sailing there was much to see all morning as we cruised past a stretch of the Rhine, where castles, ruined or occupied, perch on almost every hill. Some make you wish you could stop and explore, but after a while, it’s almost, ho hum, another castle.
I had purchased a map which showed the castles along this part of the Rhine, but it really difficult to determine just what you were seeing. The Ramblers decided to sit back and just enjoy the scenery. This part of the Rhine can be quite narrow, rocky, and dangerous. En route we passed through the Lorelei; not a person, but the spot where the Rhine flows through a narrow rocky gorge. In the days before Germany was united, local barons often collected toll from passing boats in this area. They actually constructed small fortifications which doubled as toll plazas.
We sailed past several more campgrounds along the banks of the Rhine. This is obviously a popular tourist area for Germans and Austrians who live in the area.
Local residents enjoy traveling around to the quaint villages, and tasting wine at the many wineries and tasting rooms in the area, just as much as tourists from other parts of the world. Some even bring their boats along, and launch them on the Rhine, as there are many places to dock. Crossing the Rhine in this part of Germany involves taking a ferry ride, as there are very few bridges to be seen, but ferries in almost every town.
Our stop today was the small city of Rudesheim, within the Valley of the Lorelei and the center of the Rhine River valley wine industry. Two millenniums ago, it was a Roman settlement as were most of the cities along the Rhine. Today it appears to be a quaint, almost medieval place; the reality is that most of the original buildings were destroyed during WWII. Rudesheim is actually a tribute to the skill and determination of its citizens to restore their city. They have been so successful that close to 3 million people visit Rudesheim annually, about half from abroad.
After another delicious lunch( the MT’s kitchen served the most wonderful soups at lunchtime, with a different selection every day)our ship docked alongside a riverside park in Rudesheim.
At this stop we experienced RAFTING for the first time. Because of the growing popularity of river cruising, sometimes there isn’t enough dock space available close to town during the peak cruise months. Consequently, the second river boat to arrive has to tie up to the boat that is already docked. The Ramblers are surprised this doesn’t happen even more often than it does, as most cruises seem to start on Sunday and end on Saturday. At any rate, the Maria Theresa was the second ship in Rudesheim, so in order to disembark, we had to walk through the first ship to reach the shore. Luckily the dock was fairly level so it didn’t involve much stair climbing. Viking seems to have its own dock space, but because there are so many Viking ships on the river, they are almost always rafted two or three together.
This is one reality of river cruising which will cause problems for people who can’t walk or climb steps on their own. There simply isn’t another way to get off the ship except by going through another ship when they are rafted together. In this case, the Ramblers suggest cruising at a less popular time, early spring or late fall, when there are fewer ships on the rivers and rafting is unlikely. Otherwise, if you can’t make it up and down sometimes steep steps, you may be trapped on the boat at some stops. Although most river boats have elevators, none of them go up to the sun deck, which is often accessed only by a set of steep stairs. However, rafting sometimes involves climbing up to the top deck in order to disembark,
After getting off the MT in Rudesheim, we boarded a mini-tram (it really was mini–generous sized passengers had to squeeze in. The tram took us to the center of the Alstadt, where we climbed a series of steps to the catch the gondola which would take us to the top of the Niederwald Monument. The best way to get to the Gondola is to ride the mini-tram; it takes you around the Alstadt and you get off near the Kathe Wolfhart store.
Although the Rambler is an historian, she has never been very fond of monuments, however visiting this one had several benefits. You got to ride in an open gondola, and the view from the top was magnificent. What I didn’t find out until too late, was that we weren’t far from the cloister of Hildegarde of Bingen, the famous (to me anyway) medieval mystic, musician and physician. I wish Uniworld would include tours of her cloister along with the monument.
Built in the 1880’s to celebrate the unification of Germany as a nation state in 1871, the monument is impressive. It is crowned with a statue of Germania and features bas-reliefs of Kaiser Wilhelm and his generals on the base. There was a good crowd of river cruisers and local tourists milling around base of the monument and taking photos. There was also an opportunity to try out the local wines at the top of the hill. There were several booths set up by the local wineries offering tastings but the Ramblers found the view much more interesting. After wandering around for a while and admiring the views, we headed back to the gondola house and literally hopped back on for a ride back down to the town.
No mini-tram awaited us, so we slowly strolled back to the river, admiring the quaint buildings and people watching along the way. This had been a very nice stop, with a little of everything, tram and gondola rides, a good walk, sunshine and moderate temperatures. Some fellow cruisers raved about the Kathie Wohlfart Christmas shop in town and came back toting serious purchases. Since the Ramblers have 60 plus years of somewhat battered but beloved Christmas memorabilia, we weren’t even tempted to go inside. But evidently it is a good place to stop if you are interested in such things.
Luckily, it is very hard to get lost in Rudesheim as everything runs down to the river. Once you see the river, you can head for your dock. We had to walk through another ship on the way, and thought it not nearly as nice as the MT. Some of the folks on the other ship evidently thought so too, and we felt rather smug when they made admiring comments about the Maria Theresa. It would not be hard to get to sleep tonight as we sailed to Wurzburg.